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Missive on an Early A.M. Thriller 01/20/2008 - 2:40 AM

Hewittface_down_2 Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Australian Open. The tournament had initially planned to hold a normal night session this evening (it's coming up on 7:00 p.m. here) but decided, because of the drama produced by this morning's marathon between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, to reschedule today's big matches for Rod Laver Arena beginning at 10:00 p.m. We didn't quite make it to dawn yesterday (play ended at 4:30 a.m.) and until this tournament sees sunrise, it's a failure.

If you think the long hours were tough on Hewitt and Baghdatis, open your heart for Craig Tiley, the second-year tournament director here (he used to coach the University of Illinois tennis team). Tiley left the grounds after the Hewitt match, drove home, showered, and returned. Worst of all, after not sleeping the entire night he had to endure one of the worst things a person who hasn't slept can be made to endure, a dreadful, awful spectacle known as the "press conference."

Tiley and tournament referee Wayne McKewen sat down this afternoon and declared the Hewitt match, which began at 11:49 p.m., and the day's tennis in general (a rare five-set match from Roger Federer) a resounding success. He received lots of e-mails and calls saying as much, he said. I won't argue with the result: the place was buzzing at 2:30 a.m. when I left (being on the road as a writer has one problem--sometimes, you have to write). The finish was thrilling. Hewitt did next to nothing for most of the match; he just hit the same medium paced ball over and over again and let Baghdatis dictate play (he varied his shots a little better in the fourth set before he blew that 5-1 lead). Baghdatis lost the match as much as Hewitt won it with mental fortitude, but the finish was thrilling--a service return winner that skidded off the baseline and left Hewitt on the brink of tears. What a risk to take, and what a shot. At last, Australians could have their morning coffee, eggs, and bacon in peace.

Tiley had a more difficult time convincing some of his questioners that the tournament had done the right thing by letting this match start so late. He said the players were consulted and preferred to play (Hewitt said they had an "opinion" about what should happen, but "we didn't really have a choice"). The bigger problem, though, was the players were given the impression, at one point, that the match between Venus Williams and Sania Mirza would be moved to Vodafone Arena or rescheduled for the next day. Hewitt and Baghdatis loosened up thinking they would get on court around 9:00 p.m. But when the tournament went to Williams and Mirza, they said they would not play the next day (they are both playing doubles and Mirza is playing mixed doubles, too). They also said they didn't want to move to the smaller stadium, since their match had been scheduled in Rod Laver and they felt it was just as important as the men's match.

So the show went on as planned--and it went on forever. Had Mirza stolen a set, Hewitt and Baghdatis would have been sent home and asked to return today. Luckily, that didn't happen.

Months and years from now, this great morning of tennis won't be remembered as a scheduling gaffe, but as one of those days where the stars aligned (collided more than aligned--Federer never struggles to win in the early rounds) and produced a night that 15,000 people or so will keep with them forever (television stations here keep running clips of fans leaving the stadium in search of a champagne breakfast--good thing this happened on a Saturday, I mean Sunday). It wouldn't have happened anywhere else, either, probably not even at the U.S. Open. And can you imagine the All England Club honoring the wishes of Williams and Mirza and not moving a match from Centre Court to Court 1 if faced with some unforeseen scheduling problem? Something tells me that if put in that situation again, Tiley and company would make a different call. In fact, a different call would have been the right call. This time, though, I'm glad they got it wrong.


23 Comments

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Posted by fifteenlove 01/20/2008 at 03:10 AM

first! (ok i can never get this on the regular TW, i'll just have to settle for here,lol.)

was this the latest finish ever for a grand slam match?

Posted by Ed McGrogan 01/20/2008 at 03:41 AM

Hey Tom -

There's just so much to digest and talk about over the past few days that I have no idea where to start. But there's one thing I can say deifnitively right now - I feel like this tournament is getting more people to talk about tennis. SportsCenter (smartly) has had a lot more focus on the event, and I am reguarly hearing more buzz about the sport in places that it's never been discussed before.

Prior to last night's Federer and Hewitt matches, I said that this has been one of the most enjoyable opening weeks of a Slam I'd seen. Little did I know what was to come. If this is a prelude to the rest of the tournament, we're all in for more treats. If it's a prelude to 2008 as a tennis season...watch out.

There's something so special about not knowing how a tennis match can end - could be an hour, could be five. Could be 3 sets, could be 5. It's one of the many wrinkles about the sport that make it the unique and special game that it is.

As I've said to Kamakshi - enjoy your time there!

Posted by Nick 01/20/2008 at 04:44 AM

Great piece,i live in London and could not believe i was watching live tennis still as it was getting dark here..

Your also bang on about the all England club..plenty of rain last year i know but remember how they moved Sharapova Venus to court 2..got the warm up in and it rained again.

Posted by Dee 01/20/2008 at 05:02 AM

Casey's shaking her head and Jelena is breathing hard. The valiant Aussie is just going for her shots after losing the first set 6-7.

Tom, I guess the rest of the regulars are still asleep! I had only 4 hours sleep then woke up in time for the Nalbandian-Ferrero match. Should have slept on with the listless play of Nalby.

A lot of great matches over the past 3 days ... almost like a drumbeat getting louder and louder as the finals approaches. On the men's side the 5-set thrillers just shows you how much depth there is in the men's game. On the women's side, too bad Li Na lost. So with Sania Mirza. There are new girls to look out for, Wozniacki, not yet 18 years of age, and Domachowska of Poland who took out Li Na. Agniezka Radwanzk's star continues to rise.

More thrillers and new faces to watch, hopefully no more 5-setters till the wee hours of the morning as we have to work too, you know. Am especially looking forward to Justine and Maria's match.

Posted by Dee 01/20/2008 at 06:43 AM

PHM has retired at 4-6, 0-3 against Nadal, so it seems I got my wish thrown at me for no more 5-setters. Rafa was playing clinical tennis and retrieving well. Not much practice for him tonight but on the plus side he remains fresh for Jarrko. Whatever the injury of PHM (his calf?), hopefully he gets over that soon. I thought he would be a dangerous opponent for Rafa, but it was not to be.

Posted by skip1515 01/20/2008 at 07:15 AM

Tom: Ed Grogan's comment above makes me wonder what the reason is the AO's receiving all the new (and warranted) attention. Is it the tennis, or is it the increased coverage and the fact that the international timing makes it more accessible here in the States?

Like many things it's probably some of both (the answer lies in the middle), but there's been great tennis played at many tournaments in the past, too. Are we seeing the results of "if you broadcast it, they will come"?

Posted by skip1515 01/20/2008 at 07:16 AM

Sorry, "McGrogan". Apologies, Ed.

Posted by jb 01/20/2008 at 07:57 AM

That match was fantastic - but I do think its a pity the mens match couldn't have gone on earlier. While venus's match was indeed important - the fact is the women's match, as a best of 3 is typically less than half the time of even a short mens match...

refusing to move to make a statement about women's tennis being important isn't good enough for me; as what about the message it sends about being considerate of fellow players, or just plain old cooperation? But perhaps the men are rivals and not fellow players?

Its a pity, as this scheduling gaffe handicaps Hewitt moving forward and that seems a poor reward to me.

Posted by Eric 01/20/2008 at 08:07 AM

Was is just me or did Hewitt's ball on match point against Baghdatis appear to be out?

Posted by Eric 01/20/2008 at 08:07 AM

Was is just me or did Hewitt's ball on match point against Baghdatis appear to be out?

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed/Karen (Dish Network gone again) 01/20/2008 at 08:44 AM

Because jb if the roles were reversed they would not have moved a men's match to accommodate a women's match. Thank you Venus for not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. Good for you. And Mirza too.

Posted by Ed McGrogan 01/20/2008 at 11:10 AM

Hey Skip, don't worry about the mispelling - that last name has been butchered so many times by substitute teachers and junk mail that I think nothing of it nowadays.

It's funny - the times that the AO is shown would seem to equate to only hardcore viewers staying up and watching it, but in reality, it's on at "prime time", and plenty of people are up well into the morning hours. (And get up very early.) In either case, the tennis is on TV, live, and so I feel like there is more exposure - which has greatly benefited from sublime tennis. Someone was mentioning how ESPN was getting kudos for their sticking with the coverage, even after all of these lengthy matches that would preempt other programming they had - I definitely agree there and tip my hat to them.

Also, contrast the times that the AO is on against Wimbledon and the French Open, as the only people that can watch those majors are those who don't have to work during the day. Even the US Open to same degree.

The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific? It's the new grand slam of the US, because we can watch it when we're NOT working!

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed/Karen (Dish Network gone again) 01/20/2008 at 11:18 AM

Ed, I am with you all the way on that one. I know that here in the Cayman Islands we are extremely grateful for the coverage, especially on ESPN Deportes. Those of us here who have satellite dishes went through a hard first days at the Open because Dish Network was down. It is now up, but only intermittently and we are unable to get the TC. That being said I was one of those who actually sent an email to ESPN congratulating them on their coverage. I for one personally watched at least 12 hours of coverage on ESPN Deportes and because of that did not get to see many of the matches last night. From all accounts I was right to go to sleep as there were not many competitive matches last night. Or perhaps that was a let down from the competitive matches the night before

Posted by Marian 01/20/2008 at 02:47 PM

Ed,

The AO is a nightmare in Europe to watch live on TV if you have to work.

Tom,
Would you please ask that Tiley fellow that next year (or this week if possible) he would take into account that in most European countries "his" Grand Slam is only televised by Eurosport International and that this channel sucks big time!. They have an exclusive with the WTA and during GS they show mostly women's tennis. To add insult to injury "his" website doesn't allow to take a subscription to watch "his" tournament online if you live on the old continent where 90% of the players are born and raised, so we are scouting internet to watch pieces of the matches we are interested in.

Give me Wimbledon any time.

Posted by Lucy 01/20/2008 at 07:36 PM

There is just something really great about the idea of 15,000 people who have been watching live tennis all night roaming around Melbourne at dawn looking for a champagne breakfast.

For me, it's not so much that they made the wrong call but that they futzed around so much before they did so.

Posted by Rosangel 01/21/2008 at 01:22 AM

YPF/Karen: During Wimbledon, unbelievably, the schedulers, in order to accommodate the women to try to move the draw forward, were putting on women's 4th round matches before the men's third round matches for the lower half of the draw - the men's third round wasn't decided by the beginning of the second week. They thought they would get away with it, but badly misread the weather situation (an idiotic mistake in itself - it was obvious that it was going to rain), and messed up big-time as a result. We all know what happened to the men - eventually, the semifinals were something of a disaster, with Gasquet tired and unable to offer much resistance (not enough recovery time - the men are playing best-of-five, after all), and Djokovic having to retire.

No question that the men should have been given priority in the situation I describe, because their matches were a whole round behind the women's already, with time running dangerously short - Wimbledon only just avoided having to go into a third week, but asked more of some players than others through the schedule. Those players were men. I only raise this because you seem to think that the women are more likely to get given lower priority when decisions like this are taken. Not always. Certainly not at Wimbledon last year. Not that anyone was "consulted" - they weren't.

It shouldn't be about men versus women. It should be about how to inconvenience the least number of people while remaining as fair as possible to all the players, and the ticket-buyers. Making awkward scheduling decisions should not be about gender politics.

The Venus/spokewoman stuff is a red herring. She and Mirza should not have had any influence on the decision made, so it was a mistake to consult her/Mirza about where the match should be played. It's not as though the Vodafone Arena is the Black Hole of Calcutta. Looks like a perfectly good court to me, and the surface is the same as RLA.

I don't blame Venus for grandstanding about this, but it's the wrong issue.

Posted by Ruth_yyz 01/21/2008 at 03:03 AM

Rosangel you have not addressed an important point - that there already was a match on vodafone. And what do you mean that it was the wrong issue to grandstand on?

Posted by Oz 01/21/2008 at 03:19 AM

Hey Rosangel, welcome back. And thanks everyone for commenting. Just to clarify: I don't think the women were asked to consider moving because they were women, but because an Aussie was playing an important match. If the tournament had decided to move the ladies against their wishes, it would have been acceptable--even if the women had to wait a half hour to start on Vodafone. On the flip side, if the ladies match in question included Casey Dellacqua and the men's match didn't involved Hewitt, the men would have been asked to consider moving. This comes down to nationalism, nothing more and nothing less--every major schedules matches with its home players first in mind. And while it is nice to consult the players when an odd situation arises, the tournament officials run the tournament and pay the prize money, not the players. It's their choice. All in all, though, I like the way it turned out--great for the sport as a whole (more coverage and lots of people talking about it around the world).

Posted by Rosangel 01/21/2008 at 04:47 AM

Ruth_xyz: I think the point about the match on vodafone has been addressed - the women would not have had long to wait. Wrong issue is gender politics and scheduling. As in, I don't think that the message being sent would have been that the women's match was unimportant due to their sex - just due to the specific attraction value of the men's match to the target audience. If that's the way the message was taken by these specific women- well, it's a misinterpretation.

Though (and this is a diversion from the main subject, but maybe the women are sensitive about it) as far as the public is concerned, it's certainly true that at Wimbledon, the men's days currently command markedly higher secondary-market ticket prices for legally-resaleable debentures than the women's days, which presumably reflects either higher demand for those tickets, or their being perceived as inherently more valuable, or a combination. But that's the free market in operation, and it's not viable for TDs to require the public to be politically correct in their buying decisions or viewing preferences on that score. The Aus Open seems to mix up the men's and women's matches more, so I don't know that there would be any disparity in normal ticket prices other than by round. At Roland Garros, I can confirm from experience that the tickets for the men's days command higher prices than for the women's days.

Posted by 01/21/2008 at 07:44 AM

I live in South Africa and really couldn't believe I was watching live tennis from Australia at 1pm, then it became 3pm. I was floored. When was Hewitt going to rest seeing he was scheduled less than 24 hrs later against Djokovic? He must have been shattered for that match [which he lost unsurprisingly]. Well I'm sure their reasons seemed valid at the time, but it must have been hell on Hewitt. That decision pretty much threw away his quarterfinal chances.

Posted by Marian 01/21/2008 at 10:56 AM

Venus-Mirza should have been moved (btw Venus has too high of an opinion of herself and her play).

Another match that I loved was Nadal-Simon, the Frenchman Simon being a good player, that put on an amazing performance...

Posted by Ruth_Yyz 01/21/2008 at 12:41 PM

I think the bottom line is this. Since of course Venus was ASKED. If someone asked me whether I wanted to do something here rather than there- I would have no qualms in expressing my PREFERENCE. So I agree if an individual asked EXPECTING me to acquiesce to their wish-too bad soo sad I'm gonna tell you exactly how I feel. I think that a conversation like this probably REGULARLY occurs at a Slam-I'm 100% convinced of it. I mean just the fact that Federer got to change the schedule of everyone in his half as a result of the stomache flu is a testimony to that (and I'm happy for it-I luv Fedex). And I dont' think that Venus thought that for the simple fact that SHE was the one playing made it a great match. She believed that Mirza-Williams made it a worthy match of the center court. I didn't hear anything from HER about it being a stand for WOMEN or anything. I heard that from Mary Carillo. That Venus has become stronger in expressing her feelings probably comes from the fact that she has been in these situations b4 (debates for Gender equality.) I am utterly convinced that this discussion is a result of people simply feeling that Venus is overly confident. Yes she is very confident. I'm glad for it. It's time people got use to seeing this side of women, especially since Hilary will become the next president :-) and no i'm not american

Posted by Bob 01/22/2008 at 11:42 AM

Organizers care about the players? Bull Crap. how can they let two players play till 4.30 in the morning and then less than 24 hours later have another match? are these guys serious? get out of here, what if something happened to Hewitt when he was playing Djokovic.... sew the bastards...


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